Momentum has stalled when it comes to removing potentially controversial flags from government buildings.
Perhaps it was a matter of time.
SB 1120, a bill by Republican Sen. Jonathan Martin, failed to advance through the Governmental Oversight and Accountability committee because he had to get to another committee and asked the bill be temporarily postponed in the middle of overwhelming public opposition to his piece of legislation.
Martin’s measure holds that a “governmental entity may not erect or display a flag that represents a political viewpoint, including, but not limited to, a politically partisan, racial, sexual orientation and gender, or political ideology viewpoint. The governmental entity must remain neutral when representing political viewpoints in displaying or erecting a flag.”
The bill is supposed to “unite … everybody, regardless of who they have sex with, regardless of what country they’re from,” Martin said.
The Florida flag and the U.S. flag would be permissible under the current language, and Martin said he’d be amenable to city flags being added as well. He also said foreign flags, such as the Israeli flag, could be added as a sign of geopolitical support.
The bill would apply to flags inside buildings yet outside their offices as currently written, he added.
It would include a ban on Pride flags and Confederate flags at government buildings as well, Martin said.
However, an image of a Confederate flag as part of a statue would still be acceptable, he said, which jibes with his monument protection bill that is also moving in the Senate (and House) as Black History Month continues.
Martin’s bill also would permit military veterans to use “reasonable force” to stop a flag from being torn down, a condition not in the current House product (HB 901). He said protests in New York City inspired this language.
Why the carve out for veterans? Because they care more than civilians, the sponsor claimed.
“That means more to the veterans than to somebody like myself who didn’t serve in the military,” Martin claimed, citing former baseball player Rick Monday taking a flag from a burner on the field nearly 50 years ago.
Asked if this was a “citizens’ arrest” scenario by Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky, Martin said the bill didn’t justify assault, but did give vets leeway to protect “a government flag on government property.” He went on to note that the language gives vets recourse to defend the American flag only.
Some members of the public were unhappy with the proposal before Martin tapped out for the day, with numerous speakers saying flags in schools and government buildings let marginalized communities know they had allies, with others saying the bill was simply about “control and subjugation.”
Equality Florida’s Joe Saunders said “the intention of the bill is to target one community: my community.”
Lola Smith, a 13-year-old nonbinary student from Southwest Florida, said she’d “rather be in math class” than being forced to defend her identity.
“It’s hard to be queer in public school,” Smith said, noting many of her queer classmates had no “safe space” outside of her, which put a “ton of pressure” on her “at a young age.”
Mary Akins Durant, a native Floridian from Miami, noted she had to see Confederate flags regularly growing up.
“What killed the bill last year is that you wanted to protect the Confederate flag,” Durant said, calling the bill a “solution in search of a problem” and noting the Israeli flag was given equal prominence with the American flag in the Governor’s Office.
John Labriola of the Christian Family Coalition of Florida was up on the bill, meanwhile, as a bulwark against “activist teachers pushing indoctrination.”
He said the Pride flag was “deeply offensive” to people of faith, arguing that contentions otherwise amount to “gaslighting.”
Tom Nurse blasted the “poorly-drafted bill” as letting cities project flag images on buildings, saying the bill was a distraction from “really important things that need to be done” and is “about hate.”
As we reported earlier on Tuesday, the Governor is on board with the concept behind the bill.
“Well, I haven’t seen it but if you take a position that we’re going to fly the American flag and the state of Florida flag and that’s it, it’s not targeting anybody. It’s basically saying that we’re not going to get into this business of doing this. So I think that’s totally fine,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in Orange City.
The House version has one committee stop ahead.